How Color Impacts Your Mind, Behavior, and Emotions
We live in a kaleidoscopic world of rich reds, beautiful blues, proud purples, and gracious greens. But too often, the colors that make our world beautiful are little more than a kindergarten class’s curriculum. But colors play a more profound role in the way we experience life than you might imagine. It’s time to revisit the rainbow to discover how color impacts your mind, behavior, and emotions.
Association and Perception
A young toddler is raised in a house with a small, brown creature who walks around on four legs. The toddler points at the creature and his mother says, “Doggy.” The baby smiles and says, “Doggy!” The toddler’s mother then takes him to a farm. There, he sees another creature. This one is taller, with long hair, and a person sitting on its back. But it is also brown with four legs. The toddler points and says, “Doggy!”
There is a reason for this common childhood mistake. It’s the way babies—and all humans—naturally learn information: schemas. Schemas are mental categories we divide the world into. The toddler’s schema for “dog” was any brown, four-legged creature. Since a horse fits that description, the toddler associated it with a dog. As the child gets older, his experiences will help him develop a greater number of more complex schemas.
It isn’t only babies who take in information using schemas. As adults, we learn through association and experience all the time. For example, let’s say you didn’t have any problems with pizza, but then you got sick shortly after eating some. You may associate pizza with illness and avoid it from then on.
Schemas and Color
Colors are often a large part of our schemas. Imagine your grandparents had a sunflower farm, and you had pleasant childhood memories of visiting them. You may associate the color yellow with your schema of home, peace, and joy. Because of this, you may perceive things that are yellow differently than someone who hated going to school as a child and associated yellow with the bus.
Because members of a culture often share similar experiences, an entire culture may share an association with a color. For instance, in Western cultures, we tend to associate black with death. It is the color we wear to funerals and it conjures up images of darkness. However, in ancient Egypt, black was associated with the rich, dark color of the soil of the Nile river, and thus was associated with life. Some African cultures today associate it with wisdom and maturity.
Here are a few other colors with very different association depending on the culture:
- Purple: In most Western cultures, it is associated with royalty because historically, it was a color only the very wealthy could afford. But in Italy, purple is associated with the Passion, and therefore associated with death. It’s even considered bad luck to wear at a wedding.
- Red: Every human associates red with blood, but that association has spun off into different meanings. In the west, red indicates both passion and danger. In the east, people link it with good luck and prosperity. Many wear it on important holidays like Lunar New Year.
- Orange: People often associate this color with danger because of traffic cones, but it may also call to mind the calm of autumn leaves. In Southeast Asia, Buddhist monks wear orange, giving the color a divine air, while the Dutch associate it with the royal family.
- Green: Green has a plethora of different meanings. In the west, we view green as the color of life and often luck, associating it with trees and four-leaf clovers. But in far eastern cultures, green correlates with infidelity. South Africa associates green with death. But because it is the color of Islam, in the Middle East, it is often associated with paradise.
These subtle associations can change our perspective of something without our even realizing it. This is one of the many reasons why colors impact our mood.
Memory and Attention
Colors play an important role in our memory. Scientific studies, such as this one done in 2013, have found that we pay more attention to and remember things better when they’re in colors other than black and white. This is one of the reasons why highlighters come in different colors and why they work so much more effectively than simply reading the text.
Even within the color wheel, some colors lend themselves to attention more than others. Red is considered the color most able to capture our attention and stand out in our memory. If you ever had a harsh teacher who graded in red ink, you’ll be inclined to agree. On the other side of the spectrum, blue is also associated with calm and concentration. And deeper attention leads to more complete remembrance.
Interestingly, even though the meanings associated with specific colors vary depending on culture, the impact of color on memory and attention is universal.
Color and Consumerism
To see the ways color impacts our mind, behavior, and emotions in action, you need look no further than how color is used in marketing. Next time you go to the grocery store, look at the logos of the brands that you see. You’ll see logos in almost every color under the sun, but you will find precious few that are just black and white. This is so the logo will catch your attention and keep it.
Companies that want to be associated with health or natural products often add green to their logos because of its association with plants. This is one of the reasons why the most common color for company logos is blue. Blue, along with being associated with calm and attention, is the color with the most universal appeal. In almost all cultures, blue has a positive connotation, most likely because no matter where on earth you are, we all share one thing in common: the sky.
We live in a colorful world. If you want to bring some of that color into your home, ECOS Paints’ spectrum of organic paints will help brighten up your little piece of the world.